Pierre Karl Peladeau has been elected leader of the Parti Quebecois, as he was ushered into the top job with a first-ballot victory, attracting 57.58 per cent of votes in results announced Friday in Quebec City.

Alexandre Cloutier came in second with 29.21 per cent and Martine Ouellet finished third with 13.21 per cent.

Peladeau took the stage to make a lengthy speech, largely hammering away at the theme of Quebec independence.

"Our project is not against anyone or anything; our project is not against Canadians. It’s for the people of Quebec," said Peladeau in a brief English segment of his half-hour speech.

Party members had until 5 p.m. to vote and about 73 per cent of party members cast ballots in the vote to replace former leader Pauline Marois, who resigned after the PQ election loss to the Liberals in 2014.

The 53-year-old Peladeau, who controls media conglomerate Quebecor Inc., was considered the heavy favourite.

If none of the three candidates had polled over 50 per cent, a second round of voting with the top two finishers would have taken place between next Wednesday and Friday.

The 37-year-old Cloutier and the 46-year-old Ouellet both served in cabinet under Marois.

Stephane Bedard has been leading the party on an interim basis since the election defeat.

The Quebec solidaire party swiftly issued a press release expressing reservations about the new leader. "Peladeau has been talking to fellow Parti Quebecois members. He'll find it much more difficult to convince those reluctant to embrace independence," said QS representative Andrés Fontecilla. "His style is polarizing."

Former PQ leader Pauline Marois - who did not attend the event - called Peladeau a "great uniter" in a statement issued Friday. "I am very proud to have welcomed Pierre Karl in the Parti Quebecois. He has an entrepreneurial spirit, he has audacity. He has a deep love for our culture and it will carry with strength and dignity our political project," she wrote.

Former PQ cabinet ministers Bernard Drainville dropped out of the race on April 22 and Jean-Francois Lisee quit in January. Drainville threw his support behind Peladeau and Lisee remained neutral. Longshot candidate Pierre Cere quit the race last weekend, urging his supporters to vote for Cloutier or Ouellet. 

"In the last few weeks, it has become very clear to us that Pierre Karl is going to win, on the first ballot, hands down," said Drainville.

Much of the leadership campaign focused on Peladeau's refusal to sell his shares in Quebecor Inc.. the conglomerate in which he remains the controlling shareholder. He promised to put the shares in a blind trust, a position critics say was inadequate.

The ongoing debate prompted Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier to quip that if PQ members "want to transform the Parti Quebecois into the Parti Quebecor, it's up to them."

Political observers Don Macpherson and Jean Lapierre, interviewed by CTV Montreal, both predicted a first-round win for Peladeau. Macpherson said that the Peladeau camp was hoping to score over 60 percent in order to cement his authority and top the previous highest-ever PQ leadership vote, set by Pierre Marc Johnson in 1985.

About 20,000 new members joined the party since the leadership race began, bring the PQ's total membership to 70,000. The party had about twice that many members during the last leadership race in 2005 when Andre Boisclair was voted leader.

Peladeau has repeatedly stated since entering politics last year that his objective is to make Quebec a country. That goal will have to wait several years, however, because the next election is set only for the fall of 2018.

Bernard Landry was the only former PQ leader on hand for the event in Quebec City Friday.

Pierre Karl Peladeau bio:

Born: Oct. 16, 1961.

Education: Philosophy degree from Universite du Quebec a Montreal and law degree from Universite de Montreal.

Business: Longtime Quebecor executive and now the media conglomerate's controlling shareholder.

Legislature: First elected in Saint-Jerome in 2014.

Cabinet: No experience.

Sovereignty: Will wait until the 2018 election before deciding whether to hold a referendum.

Personal: Father of three and engaged to well-known TV personality Julie Snyder.

Past Parti Quebecois leaders:

René Lévesque 1968–1985,

Pierre-Marc Johnson 1985–1987,

Guy Chevrette 1987–1988,

Jacques Parizeau 1988–1996,

Lucien Bouchard 1996–2001,

Bernard Landry 2001–2005,

Louise Harel 2005 (acting leader),

André Boisclair 2005–2007,

François Gendron 2007 (acting leader),

Pauline Marois 2007–2014,

Stéphane Bédard 2014 (acting leader).

Parti Quebecois Leadership candidate Pierre-Karl P

Parti Quebecois Leadership candidate Pierre-Karl Peladeau, right, arrives with his family, from the left, Romy, Marie, his wife Julie Snyder and son Thomas Friday, May 15, 2015 to hear the Parti Quebecois Leadership vote results in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

-With a file from The Canadian Press